Resilient futures in the Bahamas

More than 500 people contributed to the design of four alternative scenarios about the future of Andros Island, the Bahamas, and formed the backbone of a two-year long sustainable development planning process. Photo: TravelOtter/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

New study on Andros Island in the Bahamas shows the power of using scenarios for sustainable development planning

Story highlights

  • New study presents the scenario work of a two-year sustainable development planning process for Andros Island, the Bahamas
  • More than 500 people in 35 meetings contributed to the four alternative scenarios created
  • The paper provides valuable methodological guidance for combining qualitative and quantitative approaches in future planning processes

A study published in the journal Ecology and Society gives proof of the power of creating scenarios together with multiple stakeholders for guiding sustainable development planning. It does so by combining and harnessing the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative methods, including participatory mapping and habitat risk assessment.

“Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches is hard, so this paper provides valuable methodological guidance for future planning processes also in other settings,” comments centre researcher Jan Kuiper, co-author of the new study.

Important funding

The scenario work took place in Andros Island, the Bahamas, and formed the backbone of a two-year long sustainable development planning process. It culminated in the “Sustainable Development Master Plan for Andros Island” and a $35 million funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The investment included funding for management of Marine Protected Areas across The Bahamas to protect coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves because they provide the coastal protection, fisheries habitat, and tourism benefits - all important ecosystem services frequently mentioned by stakeholders.

Andros is the largest island in The Bahamas (a) and comprises four districts: North Andros, Central Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros (b). Mangroves cover much of the island, a barrier reef shadows its eastern shoreline, and seagrass extends off the north and western shores (b).

The researchers gathered over 560 people in 35 meetings and worked with 13 government agencies to create and compare four alternative scenarios. These scenarios consisted of storylines and maps of risks for key habitats.

One of the scenarios, called “Intensive development”, came out as most problematic. It would clearly pose the greatest risk to habitats and the team worked together with stakeholders to understand which activities could lead to such a future and what could be done to help avoid it.

“The central challenge for the Government of The Bahamas |….| [was] to design a sustainable development plan that will harness the island’s natural assets without sacrificing the very ecosystems that underlie its economy and ensure the wellbeing of its citizens,” writes first author Katherine Wyatt, Stanford University, in a blog post about the project.

Harnessing different knowledge

The researchers conclude that the science-based stakeholder engagement process employed could be replicated in other settings as well.

“[It is an] effective way to harness different ways of knowing about a system and surface a future development pathway that diverse stakeholders can enthusiastically strive to meet,” they write.

The study is included in, an online database for scenario projects where practitioners can find inspiration and methods. The website aims to promote the use of scenario planning methods for sustainable development planning.

The involvement of centre researcher Kuiper was enabled by the Wallenberg Foundation Research Exchange programme on Natural Capital, Resilience and Biosphere Stewardship, which is jointly hosted by Stanford University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The team behind the study also included researchers from the Bahamas, UK and Germany.

Published: 2021-11-23

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